It took all of nine games for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018-19 season to reach a critical crossroads.
Following a 126-94 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 3, multiple veteran players vented to Joe Vardon of The Athletic that rookie point guard Collin Sexton didn’t “know how to play.”
“He doesn’t know how to defend the pick and roll,” an anonymous player told Vardon of Sexton. “He doesn’t know how to set up teammates as a point guard.”
Fortunately for the Cavs — and especially for Sexton — the NBA season lasts more than just two weeks.
Although Cleveland has only improved its record to 7-21 since its 1-8 start, the Cavs’ season has taken on a newfound meaning in recent weeks in the form of Sexton’s accelerated development. With Cleveland’s previous postseason aspirations having all but died, the Alabama product’s improved play has largely flown under the radar. But for those who have been paying attention, his recent success has been nothing short of striking.
After averaging 12.0 points on .422 percent shooting through the first two weeks of the season in October, Sexton’s numbers have improved with each passing month. In November, he upped his averages to 16.1 points on .450 shooting and he is currently averaging 18.9 points on .478 percent shooting through the Cavs’ first seven games of November.
It’s also probably not a coincidence Cleveland has earned three of its seven wins on the season in the past two weeks.
Dec 5, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton (2) celebrates a three pointer during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps most impressively, Sexton has become a more-than-adequate 3-point shooter — something that was thought to be a potential weakness of his heading into his rookie year. Of players who have appeared in more than 10 games this season, Sexton’s .436 shooting percentage from long range ranks first among all rookies.
NBA analysts have begun to take notice.
While Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has been universally viewed as the league’s top first-year player, Sexton has made a rapid ascent up several rookie rankings. In the most recent listings made by NBA.com, Hoops Habit and NBC Sports, Sexton ranks second, ahead of players who were picked ahead of him such as Phoenix Suns center DeAndre Ayton, Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
“Sexton is proving he’s the real deal,” NBA.com’s Drew Packham wrote in his most recent ‘Rookie Ladder.’ “Sexton has scored in double-digits in 18 straight games and shows no signs of slowing.”
Of course, there’s some nuance here. While Sexton ranks second in scoring among all rookies for the season (15.8 points), his meager 2.6 assists average suggests not only room for improvement, but a lack of offensive options elsewhere on the rebuilding Cleveland roster.
Nov 13, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton (2) drives to the basket against Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
It was also telling that in the final moments of the Cavs’ 113-106 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday, head coach Larry Drew opted to leave his 19-year-old point guard on the bench. Make no mistake, despite his promising play, Sexton still has strides to make.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting how he’s performed relative the rest of his class, which possesses a plethora of players who have also enjoyed early opportunities. It would obviously be foolish to make any definitive statements about Sexton or say he’s a better pro than high upside talents like Ayton and Young based off of a two-month sample size.
But it’s also become clear that it was even more foolish to write him off after a two-week sample size.